Back before color threaded
the world, when everything
was in black-and-white, I was
the only pagan at school, hiding
my breath with its curry and accent,
mouthing words to prayers I didn't
understand. I wondered why there
were always holy men but so few holy
women. I wanted to be enchanted,
to steal the baby Jesus from the Christmas
play and keep him hidden in my closet,
pull him out when I needed to be saved.
I wanted to be the blue Madonna holding
all the pieces of her son together.
Half a world away, girls my age came
as close to God as anyone could be.
They were already throwing their bodies
over their husband's funeral pyres, flung
out like blankets over the flames, chanting
Ram, Ram like a nursery rhyme. My mother
told me it was a holy mantra, the more I said
it, the holier I would be, but I never really knew
how or why, just that it was supposed to happen.
Once I tried saying it as many times as I could
in fifty seconds, but nothing. No miracle,
no halo of thorns around my head. And all I
could think about were those girls, widows
at fifteen. What did burning flowers smell like?
Something terrible, something holy?
Vandana Khanna, "Blue Madonna" from Train to Agra
. Copyright © 2001 by Vandana Khanna. Reprinted by permission of Southern Illinois University Press.
Source: Train to Agra (Southern Illinois University Press, 2001)
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